With India carrying out a daring aerial strike operation at a large Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) camp deep inside Pakistan on Tuesday, New Delhi has finally discarded its policy of strategic restraint and unveiled a new security doctrine in which Pakistan can no longer export terror to India without paying a heavy price for it, according to a European think-tank.
In its commentary, the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), a non-profit think tank, based in Amsterdam, chronicles the events leading to the airstrikes by India and the subsequent foiled military action by Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC).
The air raids were in response to the Pulwama terror attack on February 14, in which around 40 CRPF personnel lost their lives after a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into their convoy. The deadly assault, orchestrated by Pakistan-based JeM, was the deadliest one on security forces in Kashmir.
The strikes destroyed a major camp of JeM and eliminating a "large number" of terrorists, including top commanders.
In the swift operation, launched at around 3.30 am and completed within minutes, 12 Mirage-2000 fighter jets pounded the training centre, housing around 300 terrorists, in Balakot area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with six bombs while SU-30 combat aircraft maintained air superiority to ward off any retaliation by the Pakistan Air Force, sources said.
The camp, located in a forest area atop a hill, was headed by JeM chief Masood Azhar's brother-in-law Yusuf Azhar alias Ustad Gauri, who was involved in the 1999 hijack of Indian Airlines plane IC-814 and was on Interpol lookout notice since 2000.
After the Indian Air Force (IAF) successfully completed their operation, a "startled, dazed and embarrassed Pakistan, after initially denying that any such incident had occurred, subsequently reluctantly acknowledged that Indian fighter aircrafts had indeed penetrated deep into Pakistani territory undetected and had dropped bombs near Balakot."
The Pakistani government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, had condemned on what it called "uncalled Indian aggression" and said that a befitting response would be given "at the time and place of its choosing", warning of military action against New Delhi, while calling for de-escalating of tensions and resuming of bilateral dialogue.
After the IAF jets were on its way back to India following their successful foray 80 km into Pakistani territory, India's Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said the "pre-emptive" strike by India had become absolutely necessary as there was credible information that JeM, which recently carried out the terror attack in Pulwama, was planning further attacks in the country.
He underlined that despite repeated requests by India, "Pakistan has taken no concrete actions to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil", which, he contended, "could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistan authorities".
Referring to the Pulwama attack, Gokhale asserted that "credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose," adding that "the selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties".
These carefully chosen words conveyed that what India had undertaken was essentially a counter-terrorist operation aimed at neutralising terrorist attacks against India that specific intelligence had indicated was imminent, the commentary said.
"It was not directed against the Pakistani State or the Pakistani Army but at terrorists, and great care had been taken to avoid civilian casualties. The core message to Pakistan was that India was willing and capable of acting against anti-India terrorist groups being harboured by Pakistan, and while it was not inclined to provoke Pakistan militarily, it was now seriously intent on protecting itself no matter what the potential response from Pakistan would be," it added.
On Wednesday, Pakistan violated the Indian airspace and its botched attempt at retaliation through an airstrike targeting Indian military installations was repulsed by the IAF near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
On the very next day, Imran Khan announced in the Pakistani Parliament that the IAF pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, would be released as a "peace gesture". However, the cricketer-turned-premier did not make a commitment on clamping down "terrorist proxies of the Pakistani military establishment demonstrably".
"Anything short of that is not likely to appease the infuriated Indian government. The situation between the two countries, therefore, remains highly tense and volatile," the commentary outlined.
While India made it clear that there would be a military response in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, the only mystery was over the form that it would take. New Delhi had described Islamabad's foiled air attack as an "act of aggression".
"It has also made it clear that only immediate and verifiable action by Pakistan against terrorists and terror groups operating from territories under its control was acceptable to it, not talks on terror as Imran Khan has suggested as a ruse to secure de-escalation without any significant concessions," it said.
Amidst calls for de-escalation of tensions, the international community rallied behind India, backing its counter-terrorism action and urging Pakistan to take strong and effective action to combat terror outfits operating in Pakistani soil.
The P3 nations -- the US, the UK and France, meanwhile, once again asked the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions committee to list JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, thereby leading to an arms embargo, global travel ban and asset freeze.
"India has been a perpetual prisoner of its own self-restraint. I think Indians are now simply tired of being the punching bag for Pakistani terrorism. What they decided to do was send a signal that conspicuous attacks would not go unanswered (and that) Pakistani territory would not remain immune from Indian retaliation", said Ashley Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Echoing similar sentiments, Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, put forth, "There's real exhaustion and fatigue with Pakistan in India, the same fatigue that is felt by nations around the world. There's been a real hardening on whether talks can provide any benefits and whether Pakistan is genuine in its calls for dialogue".
India's air strikes led to serious questions in Pakistan over its forces failing to even detect the IAF jets entering into its territory. Furthermore, the country's defence minister Pervez Khatak contention that the military was ready to repel the Indian attack, but "it was dark" invited further scepticism, the commentary continued.
This also includes foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's vague statement that "the defenders of the nation are awake, and the nation has nothing to worry about".
"The vacillating statements on whether or not and exactly where the strike took place, and with what impact, which were intermittently emanating from the spokesman of the Pakistan Army, did not help matters. The fact that India chose a target deep in the Pakistani heartland and not on contiguous Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that India claims as legally belonging to it amped up the jitters felt in Pakistan," the commentary further said.
Not only this, India's External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, was invited to attend the 46th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Abu Dhabi from March 1-2, in a significant first. This move was criticised by Pakistan, which said that it would attend the conclave if Swaraj participated in it. Subsequently, Islamabad boycotted the meeting of the 57-member organisation.
"Whichever turn the current situation takes, one fact on which there is little ambiguity is that India has definitively changed the rules of the game as far as its response to Pakistan-backed terrorism is concerned. Pakistan's calculation that a low-cost asymmetrical war fought by terrorist proxies would keep India tied down and its assumption that the threat of nuclear war will inhibit India from retaliating in a conventional manner can now be consigned to history," the commentary further stated.
"It is Pakistan which will now have to decide whether it has the appetite or resources to stand up to the escalation that future terrorist attacks on India will invariably invite," the commentary concluded.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)